Anyone visiting Bergen is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat. From a simple fries with mayonnaise at Bello to caviar and oysters at ‘t Parkje and everything in between, Bergen has much more culinary variety than anyone could reasonably expect from a village with a population of just 16,000 or so souls.
But what makes a good restaurant? Good food, obviously, although I’ve rarely heard from anyone who’s been served poor food in Bergen, so that’s not really anything to go by. Setting? Yes, absolutely. People like to sit outside in summertime, or at least inside in comfortable surroundings if that’s not possible. And there’s so much more that can make a restaurant the place to go for diners: Is there something new or different about the place? Where do they source their ingredients? Do they cater for kids? Can I bring my dog? And, of course, is dining here going to break the bank?
So, with the above in mind and in no particular order, here are BeautifulBergen’s Top-5 restaurant picks:
Along Breelaan, a lovely five-minute-walk towards the woods north of the village centre, stands Bergen Binnen, where friendly staff always wear a smile and the chef has a broad palate and keen eye for presentation. The restaurant has a simple, classical interior, and offers plenty of outside tables in a quiet, secluded, garden-patio setting (the road isn’t too busy and the speeds are slow) where you will easily get lost in conversation with your companions and completely forget about the time; where you are, even.
Bergen Binnen is one of the more up-market restaurants around here, and an evening out, although I recommend it and think it’s absolutely worth every penny, will set you back a bit. Lunch is the reason this restaurant has made it into the Top-5. While more average places seem increasingly to be charging half a fortune for a slice of smoked salmon on bread with a huge pile of uninteresting salad swiftly served with a mediocre dry white, a far superior salmon ‘sandwich’ at Bergen Binnen is surprisingly cheap. And should you so choose, the house wine delights!
Location! Location! Location! Nowhere in Holland can you relax on a terrace atop a dune with a view between pines of an expanse of sea half a mile away. Nowhere.
Except at Huize Glory, which graces the tallest dune of Bergen aan Zee: the Russenduin, or Russian Dune, so called because it’s actually a huge burial mound containing the remains of some 600 Russian soldiers who perished during the Battle of Bergen in 1799. But don’t let that put you off. Staff are friendly, food is good and there’s a wonderful play area for the kids.
Be sure to go inside, too, because this is a gorgeous, luxuriously built villa that incorporates lots of marble, teak, stained glass and delightful masonry work. There’s usually someone on hand to guide you round if you’re that way inclined, and ask to go up into the tower, where you’ll be treated to a spectacular 360-degree view!
The Germans like their Döner, the English go for a kebab, but when you’re talking about lamb, beef or chicken roasted on a vertical rotisserie served with pita bread, salad and sauces, the Dutch indulge in shawarma (an Arabic word for ‘turning’). And as shawarma goes, Tarek’s is the best in the entire region.
His restaurant used to be called Penguin. But when you’re an all-round, likeable guy who is always at work and up for some friendly banter at the counter where you prepare your dishes, then people go to Tarek, not to Penguin. In other words, Tarek is not some smug restaurateur who names his joint after himself; it all started as a wonderful and deserved compliment by customers. Then, when he renovated the place a few years ago, someone who knows about these things advised him to change the name to Tarek. And he can be forgiven for following the advice: At least now everybody knows which restaurant you’re talking about.
Tarek serves an extensive menu that goes way beyond simple street-food. And always with a lovely little salad aside, the recipe for the dressing of which he refuses to share. He opens his place at five in the afternoon, six days a week, and shuts up shop again late, which is the main reason Tarek made it into this Top-5: What could be nicer at 1:30 a.m, especially after a few drinks, than being able to sit down comfortably in a fun atmosphere to enjoy a feast?
I spent much of my childhood in Bergen, and its dunes, woods and bunkers were the playground where my mates and I frolicked endless hours in trees, building obstacle courses and playing all kinds of war games (Tommies v. Jerries, of course!). Often, on the way home, we’d sneak into Duinvermaak’s garden to play on the swings, the climbing frame and its legendary wooden slide, which was the biggest I’d ever seen.
Occasionally, if I’d been particularly good, my parents would take me to Duinvermaak for a pancake, the restaurant’s signature dish and a treat that most kids I know still say can’t be beaten. Obviously, I sat at the table only as long as it took me to finish my pannenkoek met stroop, leaving my parents the rare luxury of enjoying one another in my absence.
Apart from slightly more modern playground equipment, not much has changed from the perspective of my memory. Inside, the ceiling is still high, the atmosphere olde-worlde and the pancakes prepared in the open kitchen are great.
So, if you’re visiting Bergen with kids, you really must – whether you like it or not – come here. And if pancakes don’t appeal to you, it’s no secret among Bergenese parents that Duinvermaak serves the best pizzas far and wide!
(If you don’t have to, don’t come by car – your chances of a space in the car park opposite on any day are about as remote as winning the lottery. Besides, it’s only a ten-minute walk from the centre.)
Tucked away in the Kleine Dorpsstraat (literally ‘small village street’) stands an old barn that’s been very stylishly converted. The ambiance is nice, the art on the walls is always worthwhile, but this restaurant is the only one discussed here first and foremost because of its food! ‘Same old, same old’ is clearly not a business concept for chef Eelke, who puts plates on the table that really offer something new and exciting to the senses. He took out an advertorial on BeautifulBergen, even asked me to write it, and I was brutally honest so I’ll leave it with you here.
Artwork: Anka Stam
Photography: Bergen Binnen, Huize Glory, Tarek and Cunst